TEMPE, Ariz. -- Fortunately for the Reds, the season isn't about to start. If it were, they'd likely be short three relievers from their projected seven-man bullpen -- closer Ryan Madson and setup men Nick Masset and Bill Bray. All have been down with injuries for most of Spring Training, which equates to 43 percent of the bullpen -- and three-fourths of the expected back end in the late innings. There are still three weeks left until the regular season opens on April 5, and the reliever injury percentages are showing signs of improving.
"This is the best I've felt all spring. Hopefully it continues," said Madson on Thursday before he threw 35 pitches in a side bullpen session at the Reds complex in Goodyear.
Madson, who signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract with an $11 million mutual option for 2013, was shut down from throwing at the end of February because of irritation in his right elbow.It was deemed a minor issue, and one the 31-year-old had experienced before with the Phillies. "Every day since I said something and they began treating it, it's gotten better," Madson said. That's a positive. Hopefully I will be in some games by the end of next week, which will give me plenty of time to be ready for Opening Day." In his first bullpen session on Tuesday, Madson threw 20 pitches -- all fastballs. In the latest session, he mixed in changeups with his fastball. As for when he might see action in a Cactus League game, it remains to be determined. "Madson threw great today," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said. "Good effort, no problems whatsoever. We're going to make sure he does everything he needs to do in the bullpen before we get him in a simulated game or Minor League game or whatever it may be. But he's looking very good." Masset was last seen in a game on March 7, when he departed in the middle of an inning with right shoulder soreness. He was shut down for several days, but has resumed throwing. He had an issue-free bullpen session on Wednesday. "He looked like he could have pitched in a game," Price said. "I would say he is definitely the closest." "Everything was coming out free and loose," Masset said. "I'm throwing all of my pitches and I feel really strong. I want to make sure I get enough work in during Spring Training so I can work on what I need to do, seeing hitters and work my counts, working my pitches and getting back to pitching live." In his two spring games before the injury, Masset had worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings with two hits and two walks. He has never missed time with a shoulder injury during his big league career. During his down time between rehab and treatments, Masset watched video of his pitching motion. "I got an idea of what I need to do mechanically to put myself in the right position to take less stress off my arm and pitch effectively," Masset said. The most seriously injured of the bullpen trio has been Bray, who strained his left groin in the early days of camp. There was a setback in his return last week, when a simulated game was shut down because of discomfort. With the exception of last year, Spring Training injuries have been an annual saga for Bray during recent seasons. He was disappointed about this year's injury because he worked all winter to remain durable after a strong 2011 when he led the staff with 79 appearances. Bray threw in the bullpen on Wednesday and is scheduled to have another session on Friday. "I'm cautiously optimistic about it," Bray said. "I'm still expecting to be ready Opening Day. I went through all the testing last week -- cuts, agility, the push off and the drop from the angle on the mound that caused the most problems. I think it will be fine. I was letting it go pretty good yesterday and had no discomfort." Bray's bullpen sessions have to include breaking balls or sliders, which are the two most demanding pitches in his repertoire and would be the biggest test of his recovery. Once Bray can make those pitches, Price and the medical staff will let him graduate to either a simulated game or Minor League game. "Billy has been able to keep his arm in shape, which is a huge bonus," Price said. "Sometimes if a groin injury is severe enough, you have to deter him from throwing and that's a huge setback. Once we sign off on it being stable, we can aggressively pursue getting him ready for the season."